Krum Horozov – man born on November 18, 1925, in the village of Letnitsa, Lovech region; lived in Rousse since 1963; completed secondary technical education; former political prisoner; interview recorded by Dilyana Ivanova, 2004, Rousse.
Stefka Kostova-Horozova – woman born in 1928 in the village of Shtraklevo, Rousse region; completed secondary education; interview recorded by Dilyana Ivanova, 2004, Rousse
I.: Where would you prefer to begin?
H.: Well, I’ll tell you a little bit of my biography. I was born to a large rural family. There were eighteen people. Our house had two rooms, one average room and a smaller one.
I.: How many children were there?
H.: There were six children from my parents, and my uncles had two children each, so we were ten children altogether in the house. Until my sixteenth year, I was in a family made up of eighteen people. We were exclusively occupied in agriculture. We knew nothing else aside from agriculture. With the animals, the meadows, fields, vineyards. This was our occupation, with sheep.
I was first in the town of Lovech as a student, after graduating from the primary school in my native village until the 5th grade. I was also a student in Letnitsa. After that, I was in the town of Lovech for three years, at the Lovech Boys’ School. After that, I was a soldier for two years, and when I got back, the Fatherland Front gave me permission to study in the university. Even with this permission I wasn’t allowed to study at the university, and I had to stay in the village for another two years. So I was occupied with agriculture, and this was exactly when the collectivization of the land took place and the villages were terrified by the new communist authority, which wanted to force us into a Labor Cooperative Farm. We had to sow their land, and at this time my father was declared a kulak and also as a member of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union. And the Chairman said that we didn’t want to join the Labor Cooperative Farm. I stayed for two years, and as a result of such a lengthy request, they allowed me to apply in 1948, in the summer, and I applied in Sofia. There was a place for me in the State Polytechnics [i.e., the State University of Polytechnics], and I did well on the exam and was accepted. I spent six whole semesters at the university. And in 1951, because they were pushing to join the labor cooperative farm, a trial was initiated to scare the villagers. Eleven people from two neighboring villages were charged, exclusively members of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union and of the Youth Agrarian Union, in order to scare the owners into joining the cooperatives, and to end their resistance. They initiated the trial and they accused me, as a student, of having been an instigator. And they listed me as the first name in the documents, and they sentenced me to 20 years.
I.: When did this happen, in which year?
H.: This happened on May 6, 1951. They arrested me in Sofia, where I was staying, and then [brought me] to Pleven, from Pleven to Lovech, and I was in inquest for 7 months. And 7 months later, they managed to set up this trial so they could sentence me, and they sentenced me, as I said, for 20 years. And I was in prison altogether for 11 years and 16 days. In May 1951 they detained me, and in May – on May 22th, 1962 – they released me. Before September 9th, I had been an antifascist activist and I’d worked with members of the Worker’s Youth Union, and I was hoping that this political activity of mine before September 9th would be enough for me to be admitted to the university. And as early as 1944, an Agrarian Youth Union had formed in our village. I was elected the Chairman of the Agrarian Youth Union, and as such I didn’t have problems during the conscription. However, during my conscription I was a representative of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union for the Fatherland Front committee. And they started pursuing Dr. G. M. Dimitrov at that time, and I was driven out of the Fatherland Front committee as a follower of his. I served in the artillery at Sevlievo, and from there, when they declared us to be enemies of the people, I was discharged when they declared us to be enemies of the people’s authority. And they didn’t give me, despite my antifascist activities, they didn’t give me a note from the Fatherland Front to enter right away, to apply to a university. And two years later, things had changed for a while then, they gave me permission to enter university.
- I.: Were they following you during these two years, were they dealing with you in some way?
- H.: During these two years, my father was declared a kulak, and [someone] wrote on our house, “A kulak lives here, an enemy of the people. Do not enter!” Propaganda groups came several times, young people loaded into a truck with music and drums. They would stop at the gates of those who had been declared kulaks in the village and shouted: “Death to the kulaks! Death to the enemies of the people! Death to the American agents at home!” These were the standard propaganda groups of that time, and this is how the young people who wanted to enter university were earning the right to receive confirmation, the note from the Fatherland Front, so that they could enter the university. And those who weren’t agitating weren’t able to enter the youth communist organization, the Union of the People’s Youth. They weren’t allowed to enter the university at all.
I.: How did the militia find you and arrest you?
H.: At that time in all of the housing, everyone had to be registered. Anyone could be found according to the registration, whoever has been there, a student or a citizen. You couldn’t stay in Sofia without registration, a certain registration.
I.: And what about your parents, did they help you somehow during your university studies?
H.: My father was constantly called to make deliveries for the state, they were making large deliveries for the state. They would keep him for entire nights at a time. People came from the municipality with trucks, and they brought us all the grain, and it still wasn’t enough. They started calling him at the municipality and harassed him to deliver what was requested, and I’ve seen him in a state of mind when he was willing to drown himself in the Osam River, which passed by close to our home. He didn’t know what to do. And my brother and I were going to buy sunflower seeds from the neighboring villages, so that he could escape prison.
I.: How did your family feel about your imprisonment?
H.: Well, they took it very roughly, because he [i.e., my father] expected that I would graduate, and that he would be able to feel a certain relief. Not only because I could have helped when I graduated, they would also have been relieved that they had fulfilled their parental duty. But after being taken to prison, it was a great shock to them. I want to mention here that during the trial, when I had to make a statement about my actions, I declared to the court that as a student I had asked my lecturer on the history of the Soviet Union, of the BCP – it was “History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union” at that time – and he told me that a kulak was a man who owned a lot of land and rented it out to be cultivated, or in Russia a kulak was someone who had a lot of money, and was living like that, just living from parasitic labor. And since my father was also declared a kulak, and we had 60 acres of land, I turned to face the public, where my father was, and with a raised hand I said: “Let my father stand up, so you can see who is declared a kulak, because he has six children.” And when I said, “because he has six children”, the prosecutor ordered the court to stop me and send me away. And maybe this worried me at the time, and when they gave me a chance to say a final word, I said that during the night I had come to the conclusion that my behavior in court had been improper, and so I asked the court for condescension and I admitted my guilt. And when the prosecutor delivered his speech, he said: “The last words of this young man persuaded me and so I propose, instead of article 70, paragraph 1, that he be sentenced according to article 70, paragraph 2, and that he be released from prison dependent upon his behavior.” But when they read the sentence, I heard that I was sentenced to 20 years. So if I hadn’t taken the last step of asking the court to excuse me, they might have sentenced me to death. Paragraph 1 is death, Paragraph 2 – 20 years in prison. And this is how I escaped the death sentence, only because I apologized – that my father was declared a kulak because he has six children. They asked me nothing more, I never said anything else.
I.: What was the People’s Court?
H.: The People’s Court… the interesting thing is that the juror who was in the court was a friend of mine, a classmate from my village, he was the son of a woman [who was] disabled because of one of her hands. Very poor people, and we’ve talked a lot about politics and he knew I was antifascist. During the trial he didn’t stand up for me. This was the interesting thing, even though he was a juror and he knew me.
I.: How many jurors were there?
H.: They were several jurors. One of them was a friend of mine, with whom I’ve talked a lot. We’ve even behaved like friends, we were fellows. But under the communists, there is no mercy.
I.: Were these professional judges and prosecutors, the ones that were trying you?
H.: The man who was the prosecutor, I know him. He was a jurist from a neighboring village in the Lovech region. His name was Goranov, but as for the rest of them – the judge, I suppose he was a jurist – but as for the rest, whether they had been jurists, I don’t know.
I.: Where did the trial take place?
H.: They tried me in Lovech, where I am from. My native region. They tried me there. And the interesting thing was that when they sentenced me, I wasn’t expecting it. I knew that things weren’t going well, but I thought that [because of] my past behavior, the influences that I had, that they’d give me no more than 3 years. I thought that they wouldn’t give me more than 3 years because I simply hadn’t done anything, we’d only ever spoken against the authority.
I.: Where were you speaking against the authority?
H.: Well, at home. We stayed there, and when they came to take lard, to take grain, honey, it was clear that we were swearing. No one will agree to work hard and then in the end to have someone take everything away from him, to remain hungry or to be unprotected.
I.: And while you were at the university?
H.: When I was a student, I had a very good relationships with the comrades. I am sociable, I never had conflicts. As students, we respected each other, despite the fact that they were members of the Youth Communist Union, and I was a non-party man. I entered the Youth Communist Union at some point . I even have a curious case… after they accepted me into the Youth Communist Union in the winter, it was fashionable then to wear the “Stalinist cap”, and so I went and bought a “Stalinist cap” – it’s wider at the front – and this is how I entered the auditorium. When they saw me with the cap, all of the Union members gathered around and they were saying, “That’s right, that’s right”, meaning that I had corrected myself. And I had this feeling inside of shame, because they considered the simple change of a cap to be a change of my being, of my view and notion of the world, but I stayed and took off the cap.
And the burden in the village continued. My father was under a lot of pressure, and after that he has been in a constant state of misery. And even one year, when I got back home with a friend of mine from the Agrarian Youth Union – and he was at the Academy in Svishtov – we decided to make bricks because we needed money in Sofia, and we had nowhere we had nowhere to sell them and we were starving terribly.
I.: This is a vacation, the summer one?
H.: This is a summer vacation. And when I told to my father that I’d make bricks, he was simply astonished. He said, “How can you go [do that]? Everyone will be laughing at you.” And I said, “There is nothing funny about earning your bread with labor, it’s not offensive, or something ugly. When I have to go back to Sofia, when I want money from you, but you don’t have any to give me, this is how I can earn it.” And for a month and a half I made bricks on the riverbank with my friend there. When the time came to count the supplies, my father was being harassed. He had no money, he couldn’t deliver the supplies, and they were going to send him to prison. And then I told mother to give them the money that I’d earned from the bricks so that we could rescue dad. Then we bought sunflower seeds and other seeds and delivered them. And when I went back to the university in Sofia, again I had no money, and again I went to my aunt to ask for some, and they sent me to the university with this. During these three years, I went hungry a lot. I didn’t have money to go to the mens.
I.: What was the mens? The students’ dining hall?
H.: Yes, the students’ dining hall, they called it the mens at the time. And in general, I’ve spent three years as a student, and I’ve starved and lived in a lot of misery. And when I was discharged from my conscription, I wanted to get textile for clothes. At that time, textiles, shoes, homespun fabric were under the commissar’s authority. I told my neighbor, “I’ve come back from my conscription”, and he knew that. And I wanted them to give me fabric for a suit. He promised to, but two or three shipments later, he hadn’t given me any and I looked for him. I said “Micho, what happened? You promised to give me fabric so that I could make myself a suit. I’m single, I have to go out with the young people here.” He said: “I wanted to give you [fabric], but they said you were an enemy and so we can’t give you any.” So my mother had to spin [the fabric] and I went to university with a homemade, woven suit. And I was at the university for three years with a homemade, woven suit. They didn’t give [me any fabric], and that’s how I [was dressed] when I went to prison.
At the university I didn’t dare say anything. You couldn’t have said anything, because if you said something against the authority or you gave a sign that you disagreed with the authority you would be banned immediately. Then, in 1949, in January, five thousand [students] were dismissed from the university. I was in my first semester, and when almost a month had passed after this dismissal, I was leaving the Polytechnics to go home. I met a cousin of mine on my mother’s side who was a bitter communist, and when he saw me he said, “You! Are you still here?” And he was a student at the Faculty of Agronomy, and after that, when I had to go to the Polytechnics I would look 200 meters ahead and I go around him at a wide distance, so that he wouldn’t see me and remember that I was there.
I.: What was the specific reason for your arrest, do you know?
H.: The specific reason… in my village, a neighbor, one house down from ours, he was one of the dismissed students. His name was Ivan Drazhkov. When the Agrarian Youth Union was banned in 1947, he was serving as a secretary, the county secretary of the AYU. They kept him for a week, and he was scared and signed a declaration of cooperation. And in 1949, they dismissed him from the Academy of Svishtov, and then they arrested him and a policeman, a junior policeman, who was the brother-in-law of our youth members. With the help of these two men, they managed to put this trial together. And at that time, as I told you, an investigation took an entire seven or eight months, and sometimes a year. The living conditions – you’re sleeping on the ground, they’re not giving you food, they’re beating you, and you can’t resist saying something that they can use to hold a trial. The trial was easy to create. They would arrest two people, and they would start lying and blaming others, and the cases would be tied together. And on their side [i.e., the authority] , they are deciding who they need and who they don’t, and where to stop, and how many people to include. [In my case,] it was me and two young people from Asenovtsi, two cousins, Stefan and Alexander Chakarovi, they chased them a lot. They had accused them of having nuclear weapon at home. They’d say such nonsense, that they were keeping American nuclear bombs in their shed. The common people would fall for these lies. And later one of the defendants from our village, who was an old man around 60 years old, one of the best and most exemplary farmers in the village, and he was also included in the trial. The others were young men, good agricultural workers with fine horses, for example. Many people were gathered together.
I.: Tell us in detail what happened after they had you arrested?
H.: The first thing was that when they arrested us, they held us for a month in solitary confinement in the Lovech prison. It’s in a basement, with cement, no windows, only a small slit. You have no clothes, you have nothing, just like a dog. It’s enough of an environment to make you think the worst, that here on this cement, without clothes on this cement, you will get sick for sure. We were being taken to the inquest station only during the night then, somewhere between 1 and 2 o’clock at night, when everything was quiet and calm. They would take you from the prison basement, you can’t see the prison, they take you to some office room, they give you a pencil, they give you a piece of paper. [A man] is sitting on the table and says, “Write.” This was in the beginning. The writing, the testimonies, were given by the very people who had been arrested. And when you write something, he’d say, “Ah, you haven’t written anything at all”, and they’d bring you back. And on the last two evenings, the examining magistrate started taking notes. He was asking me [questions] and I was answering. He was asking and I… and he would retell it the way that he knew the story. He’d insert some additional word that implicates you in some crime, saying that there is an organization. And if you don’t want to sign it, he beats you. The punishment was usually to be kept awake. You’re standing up for the entire night, next to the wall, being beaten with slaps, with fists, with kicks. I myself wasn’t been beaten like that, but I could hear it in the next room, and when I saw that man later, his hands and legs were tied up, they’d placed a rod between his arms and legs and lifted him up on two chairs, to lift him from the ground, he was hanging with his stomach facing downwards, his legs and hands were stuck, and they were beating him with a whip on his heels as well, they were crying like beasts. And he was screaming a lot.
I.: Where did they send you after that?
H.: Well, after… at that time… after the investigation and until the trial, until the trial they moved me from the Lovech prison to the Pleven prison. They drove us there, and from there to the trial itself. And after the trial was over, they took me back to the Pleven prison, but this time as a prisoner. And then we were put together with a lot of people from various places. At that time, we heard that in Sliven there were, in the Sliven region there were Goryani. There was a radio station called “Goryani” at the time, and when they sentenced me, the first people I met were the ones talking on the station – I met these Goryani. They were young men from the Sliven region. Some of them had been killed, others were still alive. I was with those who had managed to stay alive, and I realized that the Goryani movement was real. It still existed. But the Goryani people were like me, young men from the village who were working the land. There weren’t sent from somewhere else, they weren’t agents from some other country. They were young Bulgarians who simply couldn’t stand to have everything taken from them, like it was in my case as well, to work for the entire summer. This is how the people dissented and resisted, they put up resistance. And I saw them in the Pleven prison. In one cell, in a single cell, which was designed for only one man, and yet we were eight people altogether. And everyone put their rugs on the cement and were lying on the ground. I spent almost a year like this. After that, they moved me to a common cell, where I met an MP from the Great National Assembly of the time, Kamen Genchev from Botevgrad, and other common activists that had been sentenced. And then a program for the re-education of the prisoners began, on behalf of the administration.
I.: What does that mean?
H.: This was a project for cultural and education activity, for us to study Marxism and Leninism. And I remember during one of our meetings in the cell, the prison chief came. And when the prison chief entered, he turned to me as a young man and as a student from the university and said, “Horozov, let’s register you at the council to be a trainer.” And he said, “You’re a young man, come to the council to educate these young people here.” And at that time there was a flood of students, members of the AYU, who had just graduated from secondary school with their school overcoats and school hats, young boys, 16, 17, 18 year-old prisoners. And then I replied that if they had wanted to educate us, they wouldn’t have deprived us of the opportunity to go to the university and schools, they wouldn’t have brought us here. “If you’ve taken us here, then you don’t have any intention of educating us.” And because of this tenacity of mine, they moved me to the Varna prison only a month later.
When we reached Belene, our friends in the prison came to welcome us, and one of the first things that we learned was that there were young people there who were writing beautiful poems, rhymes, and I was given some of them right away. They brought them to me. And Dimitar Stoyanov, with whom we were good friends, he read it, and I read it. And there was also a teacher from Botevgrad, he’d been my teacher, Ivan. He had taught mathematics, and they took him to prison because he was an Agrarian, and we met accidentally there in Belene. We read this poem, we liked it a lot. And I kept thinking about it and it stuck in my head, that there was something about it, it had something Russian – it must have been a White Army song – and it just stayed in my mind like this. I went to sleep and at the first morning light, they lined us up in front of the shed to check us, and they started to search [for it]. Dimitar Stoyanov had the poem, he’d placed it inside his shoe and stepped on it. They couldn’t see it because they were checking our uniforms. And even on that first day, someone had told [the authorities] that we were reading forbidden literature – this was the first misfortune that happened to us. The check that was happening in Belene – in the morning, they lined us up, we were between 4,500 and 5,000 people, they lined us up in two sections, in two cells, with 10 people in row and 10 people in column, so that we formed squares of 100 men.
In the morning, when they came for a check, there were two people in charge [of the cells], a prisoner and an assistant. The check was conducted by Chief Superintendent Yonko, who later became the prison chief. The check was a very boring event, and I don’t know what it is for these people when they’re shoveling snow for an hour, an hour and a half. We were lined up and I saw three people standing there by the infirmary, prisoners, and when the check was over we went to work. This was the second day that we were going to work, and there were many people in columns ahead of us, and when they got out of the gates, they reorganized into lines of three or four people [wide], because the path is narrow and they can’t go in lines of 10 people. So they were walking in lines of three or four, and they got out [of the gates], the column moved forward, and the older prisoners that were there, they went ahead – they went to the dike. And us, the new ones, the newcomers, we were at the back of the line, last to leave the site, but when we left I saw that there were people starting to play violins. I saw that man later, the chief master, this was Ovcharov. There was a very famous orchestra before September 9th, the Ovcharov’s orchestra, it was modern for its time, so they’d taken him to prison along with two other violinists. They were sending us off to work to the sound of violins. They played the whole time until the column departed, this lasted maybe an hour.
I.: Classical music?
H.: Yes, Ovcharov… they used to play there, whoever was listening to what they were playing, but…
This was the first thing that made an impression on me. And when our turn came for our first day of work, we didn’t know what to do yet. We went out there, and the path passes through some bulrushes, big ones, with a swamp at the bottom, water. And while we were passing through this swamp we heard someone screaming, and mechanically I turned towards the sound and we saw a militiaman pushing a prisoner, choking him, maybe about 20 meters away from the path. How he’d gotten there, what he was doing, I don’t know, but when he shouted and as he was being choked – this solidarity creates a tension inside you, without any reason for it. And when we heard him, we started shouting, “Killers, killers!” And since we were at the end of the column, there were three militiamen walking behind us with machine guns. When we started shouting, “Killers!”, since the column was moving forward and the man was behind us, we turned around and started walking towards the militiamen – we were looking at their eyes. And we were shouting, “Killers, killers!” A lot of people were shouting, and they said, “Move on, move on” – holding their machine guns. All of a sudden, someone was shouting, “The doctor, the doctor!” and this moved through the column. And the doctor, also a prisoner, who was walking along with the prisoners, in case someone was hurt or something happened, Yovcho, he had been the doctor with the Goryani around Sliven – he had been with them, like a medical person and had been sentenced here. He heard the word “doctor” and didn’t know who was shouting, and he thought that they were calling for him. And he came [to the back] and the militiamen were shouting, “Hold it!” He got scared, he had come to help and all of a sudden when they shouted “Hold it!” while holding their machine guns in front of them, he lost his speech. He joined us, and meanwhile the column stopped, and they forced the man [who was being choked] to go with the assistant in charge of the cell and with one of the guards, and they took him back to the site. We kept working.
I.: Was this man alive?
H.: Alive, alive – we’d saved him, otherwise he would be gone. It would have been an escape attempt, he would have been shot by a submachine gun, and the end! The man was saved, they took him to the site and he was saved. We saved a man.
We reached the site, they showed us the dike, and they started measuring out where we should dig, what amount, to introduce us to the work. The older ones, which we found there, knew from the previous day how much to dig. It was easier for them – the trench was made and they started digging, and then I watched how to harness the wooden litter. The wooden litter has two handles in front and two in the back, and since it’s loaded with dirt, it’s only carried by hand. There were four people working, and they had to dig out 12 cubic meters of earth – which means 3 cubic meters per person – to dig it out and transport it 50 meters away from the dike, which is 6 meters high. There were straps in order to keep our hands free, you would pull on the straps attached to the handle, and from there onto your neck, and it’s harnessed just like cattle are harnessed, and that’s how you carried it.
We dug until it got dark, but when we went back with the entire line, when we were going back, we went inside. They had us line up again for the evening check, again for an hour and a half. We were in lines of 10 by 10, a simple job, it could’ve taken 20 minutes to finish the check. But they were holding us longer. And in the meantime, one of the men responsible for the cells had gotten back during the day (I hadn’t seen when because we were at the back of the line), and then they called us over. We had just arrived, but they called us over, they recognized us, and they instructed us to tell them who had been shouting. It turned out that they had a list of 10 people. They called us over to the gate, myself and several other people. And at first the two people responsible for the cell passed us, and after that they called me over. I went inside, the director of the site was Gogov, a hunchbacked man, a short man, like our neighbor Petrana. I entered the room, the guard was leading me.
“Why were you shouting?”
“I wasn’t shouting!”
“Why didn’t you? Who was shouting?”
“I didn’t see, I don’t know.”
There was a carved stick next to him, and when he got up, he hit me twice in the back, and he told me that I’d never get out of here. And after this, the guard and one of the two assistants, with a lantern, took me and drove me toward solitary confinement. And while we were going around the sheds, one of them opened a door – every door was locked there, they all had padlocks, there were no doors that people could enter and exit freely. They opened the door to the yard, and then the one for solitary confinement – it was pitch black. They opened another door and pushed me inside. I went in there without dinner, without anything, and I’d been pulling the wheelbarrow all day long, and after they’d locked me up, they left. I took a few steps, I plopped into water, I bent over and felt with my hands and saw where the water was. There was a single small dry patch left, and I found a standing tree, and I could see that there were sticks on it, I could see a bench made of four sticks, for sleeping.
And they punished me by keeping me there for 14 days, I was in that place for 14 days. This is how I started at Belene. In the evening when I was sent to the detention barracks for 14 days, Vasil Radev was bitten by an insect. When I went out, our brigade was transferred to make bricks, so I went for one week to make bricks. I spent another 20 days [in the barracks] and then one day they took me again, they isolated me with other people. There was a Patnikov from Kazanlak, an Ivanov from the Vidin region. Later when he went out, when he escaped, he emigrated to America – and they isolated us. Next to the detention barracks there was an isolated barracks, they held us there for six months.
This is why I never had the chance to go to the dike. And they might have thought that since I was a student, in as much as I could, I might have a certain influence on the younger prisoners. Whether you’re an MP or someone else, it depends on your behavior, it defines you. They thought that I would influence the younger people, so they isolated me. And they had transferred about 60 young people who were refusing to work from Tarnovo to there, so I stayed in the shed. And after six months they transported me to the Stara Zagora prison, and Genov went to Sofia. They took us to Stara Zagora, and Kolyo Shishkov was also with me, and I was there for six years. That prison was relatively more relaxed for me.
I.: Was it the hardest in Belene?
H.: Varna was the most difficult for me. They punished us a lot there, there I had maybe over 200 punishments, 200 days of solitary confinement, and a lot of isolation. Meanwhile the chief of the Stara Zagora prison was a young, intelligent man, and I often thought that he had chosen the wrong profession. Compared to the others, he was a relatively cultured man, and we had better times there.
I’ve also worked at the quarry. After spending six years [at Stara Zagora], on January 3, 1961, they took 305 of us, and they loaded us up and took us to Pleven. Once they’d transported us there, they separated us into common cells with one or two men, and they started to beat us. [It was] a very strict regime, they started chasing us, swearing at us, and it seemed like they were trying to make the prisoners reach a breaking point – [they were trying] to break them. On February 26, they drove me from Pleven to the quarry of Samovodene. For two months, whenever they lowered us down on the trolley, there were always five or six superintendents gathered there. When they’d let us go down the stairs, we were going down to the yard, they’d watch whoever they didn’t like and they’d say, “Hey, you! Why are you looking this way?” And everyone would lower his eyes, he wouldn’t dare look, and he’d said, “Why are you looking this way?”
[Once] they were leading a man away, and when we left they started beating him. They were throwing him onto the ground and beating him with sticks. He was crying like an animal, and we were all going around outside very nervous. When they sent me to Samovodene, I told the people there that the conditions in Pleven were worse, and that we had to stick together so that they couldn’t weaken us. When they saw that there was a crack, they started pushing.
And I spent there several months there, and in April they drove a group of 25 or 26 people to Samovodene, who declared that they had been young and had made a mistake. Among them there were some good friends of mine, after two or three days. And one morning we were breaking stones at the quarry, and the superintendent came, he told me to pack my bags. I understood that they were going to send me back to Pleven. And the superintendent pushed me onto the train and we left for Pleven. I was thinking that because they were beating me so much, when we passed around the Yantra River on the bridge – I was in the carriage where the conductor was and the door was open, it was nice sunny weather – and I was thinking that while they were talking, I could jump through the door and grab onto the bridge. When the train started rattling, I got scared and didn’t jump. I was thinking that when I got there, they wouldn’t kill me. So many people had signed declaration, they wouldn’t allow themselves to kill me. When I reached Pleven, the guard that received me was from a neighboring village, Obnova. When I had been a young prisoner, they had just arrived as new guards.
I was at the Stara Zagora prison, and out of our 11 people, they released them all, and only I remained out of these 11 people. But they gave me 8 years of pardon, and I still had 11 years [to serve], so when taking this pardon into account and the fact that I had already served 10 years in prison, I only had 2 more to go. When they brought me there, they took me to a single cell, only wood to sleep on. They took my clothes, they gave me a strip of carpet – like the ones we use in the corridors – and the ragged rug that I’ve taken around the prisons for 10 years, and a mug and a spoon. When the guard came for the first time to pour me some tea in the morning, he made me turn to face the wall, with my back towards him, so that I wouldn’t run over and attack him. My bread was 300 grams with 10 grams of jam. He poured my tea from above, so half of it spilled onto the cement, half of it inside the mug. I drank it and he told me to go out and kicked me, he kicked me. I with the mug (I’d already used it for toilet needs and for urinating as well, because there was no other bucket), and at the bottom there was a man waiting for me with a stick, a Gypsy, and at the door the third overseer, he kicked me, too. And I was like a beast, everyone was shouting and I was running like a madman, this happened three times a day. And when I threw away my excrement, because they didn’t let me go to a toilet, when I threw them away, the water was switched on to a strong spurt, and I could only turn the mug two or three times – the strong spurt, whatever it could wash away – I would take some water to wash my cup and I went inside the cell, they would lock me up again. It was like this for seven months, I’d become about 35 kg.
There were 6 days left of my 7 months, and one working day there was considered to be the same as two in prison, so every day [that I worked], I earned an extra day. In May 21, 1962, we were at the quarry. When we went back in the evening, the guard said: “Krum and another boy, take one step in front of the line,” and he told us to pack our things.
This was my greatest joy, that the time had finally come to pack my bags. They knew that they were supposed to release me, because I’d requested that the Prison Department give me the labor days that I had worked. I’d spent almost one year working there. I made out with a little less than a year – instead of 12 years, I was there 11 years and 16 days. I had told my father, because when they release a prisoner, he has to go to the quarry to receive his documents. And I asked him to call my sister, his daughter, to tell her to take a certain train, and where to wait for me at the Levski train station so that I could go to Pleven. And she waited for me in Levski. And they had sent me my student trousers, and since I didn’t have a coat, I asked for them to send me some money to by a coat in Pleven. And she was waiting. I was traveling freely with the other boy, there wasn’t a guard with us. We arrived in front of the prison in the morning, around ten o’clock – Roska [i.e., my sister] and the other boy and I. They gave me a note that said they were issuing my documents in Samovodene. The superintendent told me: “Come at three o’clock and I’ll give you the documents.”
Around two or three o’clock I had already bought a new coat, and all of us were waiting in front of the door. And while we were waiting, the door opened and the guard on duty there went out and [said], “Oh, Krum, what’s going on?” – as if something had happened accidentally, and I said, “I’m going home.” And he said, “Oh, you’re going home. What will you be doing?” “I’ll be working.” “I’m sorry,” he said, “that we sent you to prison.” And I replied, “You can invite back, but I don’t want to come to prison again”.
So this is how we parted, and I’ve never seen the man since. I came home the same evening, and my relatives, neighbors, sisters, and brothers-in-law were all at the station to welcome me. I had a neighbor who was a three-year-old boy when I left. I had a small bag. And when I stepped down off the train, I saw a tall boy, and I asked, “Who is he?” And they told me that it was Mitko. When I saw how much he had grown up, I understood just how many years I had been in prison.
- I.: How many years in total were you in prison?
- H.: 11 years and 16 days. We went home, I slaughtered a lamb, they served me soup to welcome me, to receive me. One day, I had to go to the municipality to bring my document to the chairman of the council (who was my neighbor, so he was probably warned). He received me with the political secretary. I gave him the document and he asked me what I would be doing for work. I told him that I hadn’t decided yet, but that I wanted to remain in the village. “But if you give me a job somewhere, I’ll take it.” And from that day on, once I left the council, the people from my village – neighbors and others that I knew – wouldn’t dare to visit me. The man who was the director of the factory – a communist – he greeted me with a smile, “Hey, Krum, what’s going on?” He welcomed me, but my close friends and acquaintances didn’t. I went 25 days without a single greeting from anyone.
On the 25th day, I met a man who was a member of our commune. He was the only one who had remained a shepherd, a private owner, and he told me that he was the only one to do so. And someone saw me and told the mother of the militia chief, because they were my neighbors. My mother went out onto the street the next day to spin [wool], and [the woman] said, “Grandmother Ivanka, your [son] Krum met Petyo yesterday, but he’ll be going back to the place he came from, no matter what!” For mother, this was enough to scare her. And when I got back, we sat down to eat lunch, and mother had shared this with dad and they asked me, since I had already been there 25 days, “What are you going to do?” “There’s a brick factory next to us, I’ll go there.” “No, absolutely not,” they said to me, “everyone will laugh at you.” “I’ll register and become a painter.” And they said, “Oh, those are all drunkards and promiscuous men.” I told them that this didn’t depend on the profession, but rather on the people, and that I wouldn’t become such a man. “Then I’ll go to the forestry enterprise, we have one of those.” Father said, “They pay very low salaries there, but you can go to Sofia.” “No,” I said, “I’ve sworn [not to go back there], and even if they load me with stones, I’ll stay here.” My mother told me about the woman that had told her that I’d be going back to where I came from. My parents said that I shouldn’t remain there, and they wanted to send me to Sofia instead.
Since my brother was in Rousse, I decided to come to him, so that we could help each other. In the beginning of June, I was staying with my brother in Rousse, and we met my wife in September 1962. With my brother’s help, I had already become a student at “Kolyo Ficheto”, the professional school of construction, to become a construction technician. Then, I met my wife while I was a student, and in 1963 we got married, and I became a citizen because of her, for which I am grateful. I respect her a lot. There are a lot of reasons, but to take a man from the street with so many risks, it’s a great thing, because everyone is following you, chasing you – and yet you’re still associating with him.
I.: Did they follow you at all after to see what were you doing, have they bothered you?
K.-H.: No, they haven’t. But I kept my father’s name, and in case [we needed to, I’d say] we weren’t relatives. This was one of our safety measures. When we had to stay in a hotel, we had to bring a note saying that we were married.
I.: Were there any issues for your children, knowing that their father had been in prison?
H.: No, my daughter came to understand this ten years later. When they released us, there was an order from the Ministry of the Interior that we be given a job. At that time, no jobs were being given to prisoners, but they followed us from one town to another. But then they ordered for us to be given a job. Two years after my release, an amnesty was granted to the followers of Nikola Petkov, and I have been pardoned ever since 1954. I had just graduated from the professional secondary school, and I could get a note saying that I hadn’t been sentenced and that I could receive a materially responsible job. Until then I wasn’t able to. The authorities were following me, but in one case they found information about when we visited one of the prisoners in Zhitarevo. They found out in the file that I had been a prisoner. I have always been kept under eye.
I.: Were they calling you for signing [i.e., checking in at the police station]?
H.: No, the Ministry of the Interior called for me once in February 1962. At that time, when I was at the Pleven prison, the people that I was eating with were escaping from the prison and going first to Yugoslavia, then to the west. And then someone lied to them and told them to go back to Bulgaria to see their mothers. There had been a provoker, someone who enticed them. The authorities were thinking that these former prisoners would come look for me to help them. Then they called me to the Ministry of the Interior to tell me that if someone was looking for me at the border, I should tell them. This was the only time I was called, like a warning.